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Free Romance Stories – ch 5

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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20

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            Hogan waited until
Susannah went to Houston to visit the Alton County Sheriff’s Department again.
He didn’t want another confrontation with Susannah. He’d have enough of those
once they left for the Cove and the sham undercover assignment. If he was blessed
with an inordinate amount of good luck, maybe the dynamics of their
relationship could change. In his favor. He’d overheard a phone conversation a
few days before between Grace and her daughter Paula. Grace had mentioned some
college boy that was supposed to be in love with Susannah. That had got his
attention. He needed intel.

            He dropped into the
worn leather chair in front of the Sheriff’s desk. “I thought maybe I
should know more about your niece. Just to know how she might react in certain
situations,” he explained, trying to sound dispassionate and
business-like. “How does Susannah’s boyfriend feel about her being a

            “Hasn’t got a
boyfriend that I know of.”

            “Nobody special
at college?”

            “Nope. When she
stayed on in Huntsville a month after graduation, I thought maybe it was
because of that, but I found out it was just so they could hire someone to
replace her at her part-time job. To be honest, Hogan, I never thought she’d
take the job I offered her after one of my deputies quit. I know she wants
something bigger and better. But she surprised me. Then again, maybe it wasn’t
such a surprise.”

            “No boyfriend.
Hmmm.” Hogan felt like grinning. When Susannah had proved so resistant to
his attempts to get to know her, to get closer, he’d begun to wonder if maybe
there was a man in her life. Still, he hadn’t been able to find a name
connected to her despite the willingness of the ladies in this county to

            “Oh, she’s got
lots of male friends. She just doesn’t let any of them get too close. She seems
to have a way to keep men at arm’s length.”

            “That she does.
I’m guessing she buys vinegar by the barrel.”

            Barney’s bushy
eyebrows rose. He guffawed. “What does that mean?”

            “You know what I
mean. Sour. She could curdle milk with her insults.”

            “Now, Hogan,
don’t let her fool you.” He turned and lifted the coffee carafe from its
hot plate on the credenza behind him. “Want some more coffee?”

            “Don’t mind if I

            “If we’re being
truthful here, I don’t think my niece dislikes you, son. If that’s what you’re
trying to find out.”

            Hogan felt his face
burn in embarrassment. He’d forgotten that Barney Drummond’s soft drawl
concealed a sharp brain. “That’s not what I meant,” he protested.

            “You see, that’s
the problem,” Barney added.

            “What do you

            Barney shrugged.
“There’s things you don’t know, and I probably should keep my big mouth
shut, but then I’ve never been famous for shutting my trap. You see, Susannah
was seven when her daddy walked out on my sister. The man never set foot in
this town again. Plumb broke their hearts and just about killed my

            Hogan nodded. He felt
a rush of sympathy. He imagined Susannah with dark red braids and big green
eyes. All arms and legs. And a broken heart. “I can’t begin to imagine how
hard that must have been.”

            Susannah needed
someone. Someone she could lean on. Someone permanent. That wasn’t him. Sure,
he wanted her. But he hadn’t thought beyond the present. For the first time, he
faced the painful knowledge that no matter how much he wanted her, he wouldn’t
be doing her any favors by having an affair with her. The realization depressed

            “I’ll tell you
this, son. Susannah’s always had spunk. She was the one my sister leaned on. She
had to be strong, and sometimes when a woman is strong, she gets too used to
being the steel in the family. Steel isn’t noted for its ability to bend. My
niece ain’t gonna bend for no man. She’ll never be a doormat.” He leaned
close and said earnestly, “The man who wins her heart is gonna get a
prize, and he’ll have a damn fine wife.”

            Hogan forced a laugh.
“Wife? Hey, I was just curious. I’m certainly not in the market for a
wife.”  He flushed, uncomfortable
about sitting with her protective uncle while he entertained thoughts of what
he was in the market for. He knew Susannah’s uncle wouldn’t find it a
bit acceptable or amusing that he wanted to romance her into his bed.

            “Too bad.
Susannah would never bore you.” The Sheriff laughed. “I wish I’d had
a video of that little scene you two played out the other day. She got you
good, son.”

            Hogan grinned and
remembered the so-called report Susannah had handed him. She’d looked so
victorious. He’d let her think she had the upper hand. For now. It made the element
of surprise his. Barney was right; she’d never bore a man.    

            “She definitely
gave you what for.” Barney’s eyes narrowed. “Glad it doesn’t seem to
bother you.”

            “You know the old
saying, Barney. He who laughs last. . . .”

            “Didn’t get the
punch line?” Barney slapped his thigh and guffawed.

            “Very funny.
Comedy must be in your family’s DNA.”

            “Guess typing
your reports must’ve bothered her a tad.”

Hogan said dryly. It had been the only excuse he’d come up with to make sure he
could see her every day. Pretty lame.

            The Sheriff’s phone
rang. Hogan paid scant attention to the conversation. He had to figure out a
way to deal with being near Susannah. He’d suspected her by-the-book attitude
was all about a need for justice. Her father had wronged her. In light of that,
it was easy to understand her career choice. He just wondered how long it would
take her to realize there was no more justice for what her father had done than
there was understanding for it.

            Maybe when she
discovered that fact she’d turn to a more suitable career which would be a good
thing since he wouldn’t be around to protect her. She probably didn’t weigh a
hundred and twenty pounds dripping wet and wearing her spit-polished black
boots, her sidearm and all the other accouterments a cop had to wear today. The
thought of her tangling with a hardened criminal gave him nightmares.

            A woman like her, with
a crop of dark red curls and wide green eyes, not to mention a mouth just made
for kissing, belonged someplace other than behind the wheel of a patrol car in
harm’s way. Where he thought she belonged was pretty obvious judging by the way
his body reacted whenever she was around, but, he didn’t think she’d agree to a
trip to paradise via his bed. Especially when she found out how he’d lied. Even
if he got this job wrapped up, there was little chance of their riding off into
the sunset together.

            Lying to a woman with
trust issues was a guarantee that you’d never have her in your life once she
discovered the truth.

            “That woman is a
royal pain,” Barney said, as he hung up the phone. “Always has been.
Always will be.”

            “Who? Your
niece?” Hogan asked, his thoughts still centered on Susannah.

            “Naw, not my
niece.” He pointed to the phone. “Thelma Thompson. Complaining again
about water rationing. Like I personally made up the schedule to irritate her.
Says her dadgum petunias are going to die if she can’t turn the hose on them
every day.”

            “I haven’t had
the pleasure of meeting Ms. Thompson.”

            Barney snorted.
“Believe me, it ain’t a pleasure. The woman’s perfected complaining to an
art form.”

            Barney stood and
stretched. Hogan could hear the older man’s joints pop which attested to the
Sheriff’s sixty-plus years. Still, Barney moved like a much younger man and had
biceps that looked like oak branches. Most men with a shred of common sense
would not want to tangle with the man.

            “Now my niece on
the other hand is as different from Thelma as night is from day. She’s a
delight, son. I’ll admit she can be a bit difficult, but if you overlook that
then the girl is an absolute delight.”

            Barney dropped into
his chair and kicked back. The springs on his ancient chair groaned as he
propped his booted feet on the desk. “She sure didn’t like havin’ to type
those trumped up reports though.”

            “Anyone would
think she’d been asked to dress in hot pants and turn tricks on Seawall
Boulevard at the Cove.” Hogan had loved the green sparks shooting from her
amazing eyes during their altercations.

            “I’ll be honest
with you. She’s a great girl, but I wish she wasn’t so gung ho on being a cop.
She’s impatient. Just because she’s got a badge, some dang Bruce Lee colored
belt, and a college degree, she thinks she can leap tall buildings like Wonder

            Hogan grinned at
Barney’s mixed analogies. “Yeah, I got that impression. We both know
college can’t teach you how to be a cop. Criminal Justice grads know statistics
and facts, but not much about human nature. Only experience teaches that.”

            “You’re right,
Hogan. You’re absolutely right. Susannah has a lot to learn. She needs some
street smarts. Like you’ve got.”

            “Right. She needs
to learn people,” Hogan agreed.

            “Exactly. Glad
you agree with me.”

            Hogan continued.
“She needs to learn life isn’t black and white, but gray. She’s just too
naive for her own good.”

            “Exactly. I’m
glad you see my point. That’s why I didn’t put up a fuss about this little
undercover thing. Being together down at the Cove is a great opportunity. I
think you should take her under your wing. Be her mentor and teach her some of
the finer points about law enforcement before I turn her loose on the

            “She needs,”
Hogan broke off. His eyes rounded. He sat bolt upright, banging his knees into
the front of the solid oak desk. “You what? What did you say?”

            “You heard me.
With your experience, you can be a big help to her. She wants to be a real law
man. I’m pretty sure she won’t be satisfied with the county for long. I figure
she’ll go to the state police eventually, but I don’t know if that will make
her happy either. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if she didn’t have plans to
become a G-man like you. A feeb. God knows why she’d want to, but I love her
like a daughter so I want her to get what she wants.”

            He looked pointedly at
Hogan. “Whatever she wants.”

            “No way.”
Hogan rubbed his knees.”Forget it.” He had things he wanted to teach
Susannah, but law enforcement wasn’t at the top of his list.

            “Aw, come on,
Hogan.  Susannah is ambitious. You’ve
got ten years experience.”

            “Don’t even think
about telling her I’m with the Bureau. You, Walter, and Luke Orland are the
only ones who know, and I want to keep it that way. I’m on personal time, and
you know it. When this is over, I’m outta here.”

            “But I thought
Walter said you might be taking over the police department at the Cove for

            “He caught me in
a weak moment when I was thoroughly disgusted with the Bureau. I told him I’d
think about it. I didn’t make any commitments one way or the other.”

            “Well whether you
do or you don’t, she still could learn from a mentor like you. Show her the ropes.
Clue her in.”

            Mentor? No. Lover was
the label he wanted, but he couldn’t tell Barney that. “Hell, Barney, I
don’t want to play nursemaid to a starry-eyed kid.”

kid?” Barney Drummond snorted. “She’s never had stars in her eyes,
more’s the pity. And she’s no kid.” His eyes narrowed shrewdly. “I’d
have bet money you noticed that already.”

            Hogan didn’t rise to
that dangerous bait. Instead, he tried a different tack. “In case you
haven’t realized it, your niece and I don’t get along. She doesn’t like me. She
won’t listen to me.”

            “Yeah, I’d
noticed there was some, uh, tension, between you two.” He chuckled
softly. “But I bet you could overcome that. I think you’re perfect for
her. So does Opal.” His eyes crinkled as he added, “As a mentor, of
course. Let’s say a tutor.”

            Hogan’s brain was
spinning. “Sorry. You’ll have to get someone else. It just wouldn’t work
out between us.”

            He  suspected the Sheriff would throw him in one
of his cells and hide the key if he knew what Hogan wanted to tutor Susannah

* * *

            Susannah was
exhausted. Somehow, she’d accomplished everything including sneaking the
clothes into her closet yesterday evening while her mom, who thought Susannah
had gone to Houston to pick up something for the sheriff’s department, was
visiting the Palmers in Clayton’s Bend.

            What she’d thought
would be a dress or two from the expensive boutique and maybe a pair of shoes
if she were lucky had turned out to be a complete wardrobe with outfits for
seven days. Not only daytime and evening wear, but also swimsuits. And hats,
purses, and shoes to go with every ensemble. Mayor Bofco’s friend who owned the
boutique even had a set of expensive luggage waiting for her. Susannah couldn’t
help but feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

            Susannah knew she
should have sat down with her mom that very first day and told her everything,
but she’d dreaded the conversation. So, like any mature, responsible adult,
she’d procrastinated. Now it was Friday evening. She’d leave tomorrow so she
had to tell her tonight. She was more worried than ever about telling Rory
Quinn, but she hadn’t had time to obsess about it because it seemed everyone
she knew had suddenly wanted to talk to her today.

            She’d even had a call
from her cousin Judy Anne Palmer, inviting her to come over the next time Rory
visited. Judy Anne had seemed so nice that Susannah felt bad about calling her
a professional virgin to Grace. Outwardly, it seemed as if she and Judy Anne
should have a lot in common since they were both unmarried females living at
home with their mothers, but the two young women had never seemed to connect,
mainly because Judy Anne, recently promoted to principal of the high school in
Clayton’s Bend, was overloaded with responsibility.

            They’d chatted a bit
and Susannah answered questions about the upcoming Midsummer Night’s Fest. She
assured Judy Anne that she and her mom would be delighted to have Judy Anne and
her mother stay over the night of the festival.

            After that, she made a
quick call home to her mom who promised she’d call Judy Anne’s mother and
second the invitation. Then Paula had called. After that, she had to work the
Dispatch desk while Grace did some shopping at the big end of summer sale at
Ainsworth’s Department Store, the only clothing and home goods store in town.

            The phone rang
constantly with requests for assistance for everything from Miss Lucille whose
cat Elizabeth was stuck up in a tree again to Miss Adrian’s complaint that
someone had stolen three ripe watermelons from her garden to a fight in the
Ainsworth’s store parking lot where two shoppers had gotten into a fight over a
clearance bed-in-a-bag set.

            Five o’clock came, but
Susannah wasn’t yet ready to go home and face her mother so she stayed. When
the deputy on duty and the night dispatcher started asking if she’d brought her
pajamas, she finished up and said goodnight.

            Heat shimmered above
the hot asphalt as she climbed into her soft top Jeep. She reversed from the
parking slot and drove away. The sun hung low above the horizon. Warm air
flowed past her and ruffled her hair. She drove the few blocks home at a
snail’s pace. Absently she noted the kids playing baseball on the nearby
elementary school ground even though day was turning into night. Thankfully,
the small town of Vance was still safe enough that parents didn’t worry about
their kids playing outside after dark.

            Susannah hadn’t been
exaggerating when she’d described their yard as the most beautiful in town. She
paused a moment as she turned into the driveway to admire it. The yard
in front of the simple
white frame bungalow
was a
lush emerald green carpet. Dense, dark green pittosporum shrubs bordered the
house with shasta daisies massed in front of the shrubs. Bright yellow day
lilies marched up both sides of the front walk. Live oaks marked the boundaries
of the yard and shaded the house. A deep porch sheltered the front door and
wrapped around to the back. On the side porch, an oak swing hung from the

            Susannah followed the
curving drive to the back. The garage doors were the old fashioned heavy kind
that opened in the middle. Since there was no automatic opener, she and her
mother usually parked in the driveway. She pulled up next to Old Reliable, her
mother’s ancient burgundy minivan that ran better than it looked.

            Everyone in town knew
that if they wanted to locate Rory Quinn on a summer evening, just go to her
backyard. That’s when Rory took advantage of the relative coolness of early
evening and the filtered shade of river birch trees to weed the many flower beds.

            Susannah saw her mom
wave. She waved back and turned off the engine. How was she going to tell her
mom about the undercover assignment?

             Her mother returned to the bed of scarlet and
sunny yellow zinnias lining the weathered cedar fence separating their back
yard from Grace and Hank Collier’s back yard.

            Susannah could
remember back when the house wasn’t in nearly as good a shape, and the yard was
just like any other yard with grass and an occasional tree. When she’d started
high school, her mother had suddenly developed an all consuming passion for
gardening. She’d always thought her mom had been too busy trying to make a
living and trying to fix up the old house she’d bought to indulge in a hobby.
But maybe that wasn’t true. After the conversation she’d had with Grace, she’d
begun to wonder if her mother was sublimating her needs by the physical labor
of gardening. She’d spent a lot of time thinking about her mother lately.

            Rory Quinn’s passion
for gardening made their home a showplace. The white bungalow might be modest,
but the yard more than made up for the house’s unprepossessing appearance. In
fact, the yard was a riot of color and smell. She caught the scents of
honeysuckle, night blooming jasmine, and roses. That’s what she liked best, the
flowers that perfumed the air. Jasmine and honeysuckle on the cedar fence and
trellises with old-fashioned climbing roses that bloomed profusely and
delighted the nose.

            Susannah smiled as she
watched her mother straighten and stretch her back. Dressed in a white tee
shirt and jean shorts, she looked more like a teenager than a woman in her
early forties. She’d been only sixteen when she’d gotten pregnant with

            The late afternoon sun
picked up red highlights in Rory’s pony tail. Her mother’s hair was a brighter
red than Susannah’s, and not a single thread of gray dimmed the shine of Rory’s
red-gold hair. Her eyes were a blue-gray. Susannah had gotten her father’s
green eyes.

            The gathering dusk
obscured the few lines of stress on Rory’s face, the only evidence of the hard
years the woman had endured. The years had been difficult, but, all in all,
they’d left little mark on her mother’s heart-shaped face. All the damage lay
on the inside, invisible to onlookers. The blow to Rory’s heart when Susannah’s
father had left them had been devastating. But there was more that Susannah had
only recently learned about the matter.

            Cheerful Rory Quinn
who’d been the homecoming queen in high school in the tenth grade had turned
into a bitter, morose, clinging woman determined to make sure her daughter
didn’t make the same mistake.

            Susannah had done her
best to be a good daughter, never giving Rory problems, always pitching in,
trying to be daughter, mother, friend, and companion to Rory. She’d tried her
best to make sure her mother didn’t regret being saddled with a baby daughter
while still in high school. She would never hurt Rory, not intentionally, but
sometimes she felt suffocated by her mother’s love.

            Sometimes she just
wanted to get away and draw a free breath. But she had stayed, rock steady for
her mom to lean on. But, too often, she found herself wishing she had the
courage to leave. But that would hurt her mother greatly. Susannah sighed.
Grace might be right, but it was hard to think about living your own life when
you spent so much time taking care of another. That was a responsibility she
hadn’t wanted. It had been thrust upon her. She hadn’t even thought about it
much before last month. Maybe, in her heart, she resented the burden.

            “Might as well
get this over with,” Susannah said aloud. Her mom was going to be upset
over the Murphy’s Cove assignment, but then everything about Susannah’s career
upset Rory. She remembered her conversation with Grace. Was her mother happy?

            Rory had lost her
innocence and any chance of a life outside Vance in one reckless act. One
stupid mistake. Susannah shuddered, refusing to believe that it could have been
anything but a mistake. Her mother didn’t lie. She didn’t. Love hurt. And it
ruined lives. She never wanted to love anyone the way Rory had loved the boy
who’d made her pregnant and then seven years later had walked away.

            Grace had to be wrong.
Her mom was happy. Even if all she did was garden and run her bookkeeping
business. It sounded boring to Susannah, but maybe it made Rory Quinn happy.

            Susannah walked toward
her mother. Immediately, she noticed the new athletic shoes. “Mom. You’re
wearing shoes. How wonderful.”

            “Dr. Munoz said I
could ease into real shoes, even wear heels eventually. But he said no dancing
in high heels.” Rory laughed as she stood and dusted her hands together,
sending dried zinnia petals to the mulched flower bed below. “As if there
were any likelihood of that.”

            The way Rory sounded.
The rueful laugh she gave. Suddenly, it all made Susannah uneasy. Did Rory want
to go dancing in high heels? “Uh, that’s great, Mom.”

            “How about some
dinner? Iced tea and chicken salad?”

            “Sounds good.
I’ll change and get started.” Susannah hurried into the house where an
attic fan rumbled, pulling fresh air inside and billowing the white lace panels
at the old-fashioned double-sash windows. It wasn’t really cool, but it was
tolerable, and much cheaper than running what many older Texans still referred
to as refrigerated air conditioning.

            In her room, she emptied
her pockets and tossed her cell phone on top of the bureau. She realized she’d
forgotten to buy a refill card for the pay-as-you-go phone. She was desperately
low on minutes so she had to get a card tomorrow or she’d be up a creek without
a paddle. Or a cell phone.

            She shed her uniform
for a pink cotton halter top and a pair of jean cut-offs similar to those her
mother wore. Nothing ever went to waste in their household. They both wore
jeans until they were ragged then hacked the legs off to make shorts. They
economized every way they could. Living frugally meant no internet or email at
home. Her mom had an old computer she used in her bookkeeping business. No
fancy cordless phones. No Caller ID. No cable though they did have a DVD player
since there was no movie theater in town. They lived an uncomplicated life.
Some might call it austere.

            Barefoot, she went
straight to the kitchen where she poured two glasses of iced tea and started
chopping an apple for the chicken salad. She set the wicker table on the porch
and returned to the kitchen where her mother was washing her hands at the sink.

            They chatted while
Rory chopped pecans then mixed in the apple and leftover chicken chunks. Rory
added a dollop of Miracle Whip and mixed it well while Susannah covered two
plates with shredded Romaine lettuce. Rory divided the chicken salad between
the two plates.

            As they carried their
plates to the table on the back porch, Susannah thought how much she loved this
time of the evening. No cable television nor any of the other things that took
most people’s time in the evenings. Instead, they had leisurely meals outdoors
with conversation instead of noise. Their leisure time was spent reading or
engaging in hobbies. Rory had her gardening, and Susannah her martial arts

            The aroma of a
multitude of blooming flowers wafted over the yard while lightning bugs, or
fireflies, glimmered in the near darkness. For a mother and a daughter used to
each other’s company, they found a variety of things to discuss. When had that
happened? She remembered silent meals when she’d been a child. Her mother had
been too sad in the early years and too busy working in the later ones.

            Susannah looked at her
home and the glorious yard. “Mom, I don’t think I’ve ever told you how
proud I am of you.”

            Startled, Rory looked
up. “What brought that on?”

            “I just realized
how hard you’ve worked all these years to create this.” Susannah gestured
to indicate the house and the yard. “You did it almost completely alone,
working two jobs until the bookkeeping business brought in enough to support
us. Then you bought this old house and brought it back to life.”

            Rory laughed.
“Remember how awful it looked? How the floors sagged and there was a nest
of squirrels in the attic?”

            “I do remember.
It’s amazing what you’ve done.”

            Rory blushed and
seemed to glow with pride. “Thank you. I know we’ve never had a lot of
luxuries, but I’m proud that I’ve always kept a roof over our head and food on
the table.” She reached over and squeezed Susannah’s hand. “Now,
speaking of food on the table, let’s eat.”

            Regardless of how
easily they could talk about most things, Susannah couldn’t figure out how to
broach the subject of her assignment at Murphy’s Cove. Tonight, the quiet
pleasure of their dinner together was filled with too much pondering on her
part. She couldn’t get Grace’s comments regarding her mother out of her mind.
Was Grace right? She found herself studying Rory, listening not to her words,
but to her tone of voice, watching her facial expressions. She picked at her
chicken salad rather than eat.

            “Doesn’t the
chicken salad appeal to you, dear?”

            Startled, Susannah
looked up. “No. It’s fine. Really.” She forced herself to eat a bite.
“Delicious, like always.” She looked at her mother. Feeling nervous
because she didn’t know how her mother would react, she said, “Could I ask
you something, Mom? It’s kind of personal.”

            Rory quirked an auburn
eyebrow and shrugged. “You’re being very serious tonight. Okay. Shoot.
What do you want to ask?”

            Susannah forged ahead.
“Do you ever get lonely?”

            “What?” Rory
laughed, but stopped when Susannah didn’t join in. “You’re serious?”
At Susannah’s nod, she slanted her head to the side as if in thought.
“Well, maybe. But who doesn’t?”

            That wasn’t the answer
Susannah wanted.

            Rory laughed.
“You look as if you just found out there’s no Santa Claus.”

            Susannah tried to
grin. “What? No Santa? Now you tell me.”

            Rory’s laughter
subsided to a smile then that faded. She looked at her daughter. “What’s
this about?”

            “Nothing. I just
wondered.” Susannah forked a piece of pecan out of the salad and nibbled
on it.

            “Well, don’t lose
any sleep over it. When I feel that way, I just get busy and pretty soon I
forget all about it.” Rory gestured toward the yard. “There’s enough
work here to keep me too busy to think about anything else. Besides gardening,
I’ve got the bookkeeping business. Now you’ve come home to live. So what more
could I possibly need?”

            That definitely wasn’t
what Susannah wanted to hear. “But what about other things? What
about,” she hesitated. Her eyes dropped then raised to meet her mother’s
eyes. “What about men? Do you ever think about, well, men? Meeting

            Rory’s laughter held
an edge to it, but no amusement. “Meet someone? Here? In Vance? You’re
kidding,  right?”

            “After my father
left, after time had passed, did you ever date? Maybe you did, and I just don’t
recall it. Was there ever anyone?” All Susannah really remembered was how
bad it had hurt when her father had walked out. And she remember her mother’s
tears. An ocean of them. Susannah had hidden her own tears in her pillow at
night as she’d listened to the sobs from her mother’s room.

            As her mother remained
silent, Susannah studied her hands, not wanting to look into her mother’s eyes
for fear she’d see tears there. Her father had been a subject to avoid when
she’d been a child. Just the mention of his name would send Rory into a
tailspin. One time when she’d been nine, she’d asked her mother why her Daddy
didn’t come visit the way other divorced dads did. That night, for the first
time in months, she’d heard the sobs again from her mother’s room. She never
asked about him again.

            “Date? Who would
I date?”

            To her surprise, her
mother didn’t look shocked. Or angry. Or depressed which Susannah had feared.
In fact, her voice was calm and without a hint of anguish.

            Rory lifted the tea
pitcher and refilled their glasses. “Who could I possibly have dated?
There’s not a whole lot of bachelors in Vance. And I had you to raise not to
mention the job of supporting us when all I had was a GED. Your father paid
child support, but it wasn’t much.”

            She sipped her tea.
“I could have fought him for more. I could have found him and forced the
issue. But I thought if he didn’t want us then I didn’t want his money. After a
few years, I didn’t really want to see him again.” She grinned ruefully.
“I think that’s what they call cutting off your nose to spite your face. I
wasn’t particularly bright about that part of my life. I should have swallowed
my pride and demanded more.”

            She swirled her glass
of tea. The ice cubes clinked against the glass. “Sometimes I look back
and am amazed that we survived. If it hadn’t been for Barney and Opal and Grace
and so many others, I guess we wouldn’t have.”

            She reached over and
patted Susannah’s hand. “Actually, I guess I owe you as much if not more
than anyone else. You, Susannah, saved me.”

            Susannah fidgeted in
her seat. “Grace thinks–.”

            Rory laughed and
rolled her eyes. “Oh, Lord. Has Grace been running off at the mouth again.
Is that what this is about? I can imagine what Grace thinks. Lord love her.
Sometimes I think that woman missed her calling. She should have been an advice
columnist. Lord knows she’s got an opinion on everything. You put whatever Grace
said out of your head.”

            Rory pushed away from
the table. “Enough of this. Come on. You’ve got a lot to do if you’re
going to be ready to leave in the morning. Do you need any help packing those
fancy new clothes you’ve got?”

            Startled, Susannah’s
mouth dropped open. “You know about that?”

            “Grace doesn’t
just run off at the mouth to you. She told me that same day. Not only did she
tell me what you should have told me, she also said Barney had made Mr. Bofco,
the Mayor of the Cove, promise to be my shadow while you were gone.” Rory
sniffed. “How embarrassing for the poor man. And for me! As if I were a
child who needed babysitting. I’m going to have a talk with my brother.”

            Rory’s ire quickly
faded, leaving her looking troubled. “I know how important this must be to
you. Why didn’t you tell me?”

            Susannah shrugged, not
wanting to say that she was afraid of her mother’s reaction.

            When she remained
silent, Rory said, “Well, never mind. Now’s your chance to fill me in on
all the details while we wash up.”

            Susannah’s mother
surprised her again. Rory offered nothing but positive comments about the
upcoming assignment in Murphy’s Cove. She even went so far as to say that even
if it was boring Susannah might enjoy a week’s vacation in a luxury hotel.

            As they cleaned the
kitchen, Rory said, “I want to tell you how much I appreciate your helping
me out this summer.”

            “That’s okay,

            “No. I mean it.
Ever since you were a little girl, you’ve been my tower of strength. I know you
turned down offers so you could come home to Vance. I know you made
sacrifices.” She reached over and ruffled Susannah’s curls. “Your
short hair reminds me of your baby curls.” She blinked rapidly.

            Susannah was surprised
to see tears in Rory’s eyes. “Mom? Are you okay?”

            Rory laughed.
“Sure. I’m just wondering where all the years went. You should still be a
curly-haired toddler. Seriously. I do appreciate your sacrifices.” She
tugged Susannah’s short curls. “Though you didn’t have to sacrifice your

            “It was time to
part with it.” Susannah shrugged. “I was beginning to feel like
Rapunzel. Besides, it didn’t look–.”

            “I know.
Professional. No one would take you seriously as a cop with such long hair.”
Rory sounded resigned. “I’ve never been happy with your decision to major
in Criminal Justice.” Softly, she said, “I understand your
motivation, but being a cop isn’t going to help you find your father. Even if
you did find him, you can’t make him come home. That was a long time ago. We’ve
all moved on. Though it took some of us,” she grinned and pointed a finger
at herself, “longer than others.”

            Guilty knowledge
weighed heavily on Susannah. So much so that she couldn’t laugh at Rory’s weak
attempt at a joke. “I know that. I’m not a hurt little girl any

            “I’d like to
amend my answer to your earlier question.” Rory pumped lotion from the
dispenser in the kitchen. “I find my life is pretty darn good especially
since you’re home now. There are things I want to say to you, but not tonight.
We’ve had enough serious conversation. There’ll be time in the future to say
them. Lots of time. Right now, you need to pack and get to bed. Tomorrow will
be a long day.” She smoothed the lotion over her hands and arms.

            Everything her mother
said just made Susannah feel worse.

            “See?” Rory
asked with a bright smile. “I’m getting used to your being a deputy. I’m
not so worried about it since you chose to take the job Barney offered

            Susannah’s heart sank.
Now was the time to tell her mother that she didn’t intend to stay a deputy in
her uncle’s sheriff’s department forever. But the words wouldn’t come.

            “Tell me about
this D. E. Hogan,” Rory said. “Grace says he’s quite a hunk. What
does D. E. stand for?”

            Susannah hated herself
for being such a coward, but she seized the change of topic. “Domineering
and egotistical?”

            Rory chuckled.
“Sounds as if you aren’t one of his admirers.”

            “Definitely not.
Grace admires him enough for both of us. He expects me to fall at his feet too
I guess.” Susannah shook her head adamantly. “I can’t stand the man.
This would be a plum assignment if it weren’t for him.” Warming to her
subject, she told Rory how Hogan had gone out of his way from the very
beginning to annoy her.

            “Sounds as if he
made a vivid impression on you.” Rory’s face held an odd expression.
“I’ve never heard you express such strong feelings about a man before. Any
man.” Thoughtfully, she murmured, “Even in high school, you were
oblivious. And believe me. I could see Jack and Juanita Orland’s boy tried his
best to capture your interest. Hmm. This is odd. Very odd.”

            Susannah barely heard
her mother’s soft comments. She was thinking about what the Mayor had said. If
Hogan really did have experience, what was he doing out here in the boondocks?
True, Murphy’s Cove with its jet setters was more cosmopolitan than the rest of
the county, but it was nothing to excite a real cop. Not the kind of cop she
wanted to be.

            So what was Hogan up




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